DescriptionThomas A. Edison: Patent Infringement Case Court Exhibits. Collection of five light bulbs and one socket many of which, if not all, were used in patent infringement law suits filed by the Edison Electric Light Company in the late 19th century. These include:
1. 5.5" bulb made by Keystone with manufacturer's label and attached note reading: "Received of Clarck [sic] Busch/ Penn. State Printing Office/ on Herr St. Harrisburg Pa./ on the 13th day of Marc [sic] 1894/ at 11:50 A.M."
2. 5.5" bulb made by Buckeye with manufacturer's label ("Buckeye 16 c.p.") and attached note reading: "United States Circuit Court/ Southern District of New York/ Edison Electric Light Co. et al/ vs./ Lyman G. Bloomingdale et al/ Complainant's exhibit 'Buckeye' lamp/ made by defendants".
3. 5.5" bulb with attached tag inscribed on both sides: "Re Opinion Perkins Lamp/ Case - Lamp Manufac-/ tured by Thomson-Hous-/ ton Co.; alleged infringe-/ ment of Holzer Patent,/ No. 294,698." and "Thomson-Houston Yonkers Lamp".
4. 5" bulb with porcelain base and manufacturer's label reading: "16c Edison 52".
5. 5.5" bulb with manufacturer's label reading: "Edison Lamp/ Patented Feb. 14, 1880/ Other Edison Patents" and attached note dated December 15, 1893 and some illegible words, perhaps "Copper Halves" and "Ben".
6. 2.5" brass socket or light switch with worn, attached tag (separations repaired with tape) reading: "Received from/ Mr. Shainwill's/ letter of May 23/92/ I showed this socket to/ Spruance this day & he said/ it was manufactured by the/ Star Electric Company/ W. H. Meadowcroft/ July 26/92".
The provenance on this lot is as follows: descended from the consignor's great aunt Anna Knudsen who was married to John C. Rowe, a patent attorney in the firm Eaton, Lewis and Rowe. That law firm represented Edison in various patent infringement cases.
Although Edison is often credited with inventing the incandescent light, this was not the case. Other public demonstrations, experiments and patents preceded him, but he made various improvements which, taken as a whole, made the invention practical for commercial use. These improvements involved the carbon filament (along with secure means of attachment), a high vacuum achieved through the Sprengel pump and an integrated system of electrical supply. He began his experiments in October 1878, conducted his first successful test a year later and applied for a patent on November 4, 1879 which was granted on January 27, 1880, assigned number 0.223.898. This was just one of 424 patents Edison received dealing with electric light and power generation.
Obtaining a patent did not guarantee any sort of monopoly or 100% market share. Competitors made products that improved upon or by-passed the patented components. Patents were quite specific. The inventor's sketches and verbal descriptions were crucial elements which "locked-in" the invention while, at the same time, allowed competitors to know where they could venture and what was restricted. In the case of the phonograph (which Edison did invent), companies like Columbia and the Victor Talking Machine Company attained large market shares. In the case of the light bulb, there were challenges to the validity of Edison's patent and well as court injunctions against the sale of competitor's products (upheld or denied by various judges) and patent infringement cases. The plaintiffs in some of these suits included: United States Electric Lighting Company, Sawyer-Man Electric Company, Westinghouse Electric, Perkins Electric Lamp Company, Mather Electric Company, Beacon Vacuum Pump & Electrical Company and the Boston Incandescent Lamp Company which marketed bulbs produced under the Pollard patent (manufactured by the Packard Company, Buckeye Electric and Imperial Electric). During the period of these patent infringement cases, the number of patents applied for in this field actually increased while the price of a bulb (originally $1 in 1880) declined to around 33-cents. In 1894, Edison's patent expired, effectively ending any further lawsuits. The Edison Electric Light Company merged with Thomson-Houston to form General Electric. Edison would make most of his money from the dry cell storage battery and Portland cement. The motion picture "trust" he headed was dissolved by court order, under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Today, of course, the incandescent bulb he perfected is on the road to obsolescence, but it had a long run and a tremendous impact on our way of life.
Some notes on items in this important collection: William Henry Meadowcroft, whose name appears on the tag attached to the brass socket, was a senior partner in the law firm Carter & Eaton (patent attorneys) and a Vice President of the Edison Electric Light Company. In 1910, he left the firm to become Edison's personal secretary, a position he held until Edison's death in 1931. He wrote several books on the history of electricity. The Thomson-Houston Company first introduced an incandescent lamp in 1884. They held several patents, producing arc lighting and dynamos.
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